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Like most men, I’m not much of a crier. I only remember crying under three circumstances: an irritation in my eye, extreme pain, and the breakup of my engagement. I dripped a tear or two for the irritation and pain, but I spewed tears like a fire hose over my breakup. Relational pain is the worst kind.
In Romans 9.1-5, Paul expresses his pain over the breakup of Israel’s relationship with God:
I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit—I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.
According to Romans 9-11, Paul assigns blame for the breakup of the relationship with God to Israel. Or rather, he assigns blame to those Jews who rejected Christ. All of Christ’s first followers were Jews. Some Jews accepted Christ in the first century, just as some continue to accept him today.
Despite the blame, Paul still grieves for his fellow Jews who rejected Christ. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” he writes. Pay attention to his adjectives. Paul’s sorrow is great, his anguish unceasing. This is a guy who is crying a lot because the people he loves are spurning the God who loves them.
In his grief, Paul contemplates desperate measures. He blurts out, “I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers.” Paul is ready to go to hell for his people, in other words. God allows such emotions, but not such actions. Only Christ’s sacrifice can save, and even it must be received in faith, one person at a time.
Why is Paul so sad about Israel’s rejection of Christ? Because God invested so much in them! Notice Paul’s long list of Israel’s God-given blessings: “the adoption as sons; … the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises… the patriarchs, and … Christ, who is God over all, forever praised!” God designed each of these blessings to prepare Israel for Jesus, but when he came, many Jews nonetheless rejected him. They squandered God’s greatest gift. But in rejecting Christ, they rejected God, for Christ is God. (Romans 9.5 is one of a handful of explicit statements of Jesus’ divinity in the New Testament.)
Reading Romans 9.1-5, I cannot help but think of the people I know who have not yet accepted Christ. It’s a cause for tears, but also a call to action. What am I doing to help them accept God’s greatest gift? What are you?